Apparent Karzai Victory in Afghanistan a Big Win for Democracy
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2004 Although the Joint Election Management Body won't officially certify results of the Afghan elections for a few more days, interim President Hamid Karzai appears to be the clear winner, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan said Oct. 27.
But the biggest winners, Zalmay Khalilzad said at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, "are those who believe in the vision of a moderate and democratic Afghanistan, one that will be an enduring partner in the war against extremism and terrorism, one that can rejoin the international community, and one that will create peace and opportunity for the Afghan people."
And the big losers, he said, are the Taliban extremists and their terrorist allies. "They sought to prevent the election," Khalilzad said. "Having failed that, they tried to disrupt it, but they failed again. They were shown to have little popular support."
Karzai prevailed because he won the support of a broad range of constituencies in all urban areas as well as among refugees in Pakistan and Iran, in the Pashtun areas as well as those dominated by Tajiks, Azeris and other ethnic communities, Khalilzad said.
"Though the returns indicate some voting along ethnic lines, the political lesson was that the most successful candidate was the one who had the greatest ability to attract support across all ethnic groups," he said.
Khalilzad said Afghan voters judged the candidates based on their track records. Karzai, who joined the resistance against the Soviets but belonged to a moderate Afghan resistance organization, "was seen as someone who would restore civility and revive the country's traditions of moderate politics and tolerance," Khalilzad said.
He said the huge voter turnout -- with more than 10 million Afghans registered and more than 8 million actually casting their vote on election day -- disproves arguments by naysayers that Afghanistan wasn't ready for democracy.
Khalilzad praised the Afghan people's defiance to terrorists' attempts to keep them from voting.
"In Kunar province, the terrorists carried out a bombing near a voting center. Yet, the voters stayed in line to vote, defiantly voting with their courage as well as their ballots," he said. In Bamian province, he said, voters stood in line in snow and freezing temperatures for as long as two hours to vote.
"Also, having heard the Taliban threat to attack voting centers, women in some villages said final prayers in possible preparations for their death," Khalilzad said.
"All of these voters persevered because they knew this was an historic turning point for their country," he said. "It was clear that the Afghans wanted to see the democratic process succeed."
Khalilzad said the progress toward democracy in Afghanistan "is vital to the future of the Afghan people," but carries an even wider significance.
"It shows that freedom and democracy are potent weapons against those who advocate extremism and engage in terrorism," he said, adding "there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy."
Khalilzad said the elections "can be a key step in the wider transformation of the region, including the broader Middle East."
But many challenges remain ahead for Afghanistan. In the short term, Khalilzad said, the challenges are to hold successful parliamentary elections next year and select the national government.
In the medium and long term, the first challenge "is to finish off the Taliban and other armed violent opposition," he said. Also important is to supplant the opium market with a prosperous, legal agricultural alternative and to continue building and strengthening Afghanistan's government, economy and infrastructure.
"The Afghans cannot surmount these challenges without the enduring commitment of the United States and the international community," Khalilzad said.
He called the national elections in Afghanistan "an Afghan success," but was quick to acknowledge that coalition's help in setting the stage for it. "Americans as well as other friends of Afghanistan should be proud of their role in helping the Afghans take a major step toward joining the community of democratic nations," he said.